woman in black jacket

Post Creative Pain

I’ve been sitting on this for a few weeks, not sure if posting it would make me seem whiny. But Wynne Leon’s blog post earlier this week is related, and it inspired me to say my own thoughts on the matter out loud, for better or worse.

Have you ever cooked a meal just for yourself? The dish may taste good and we may be proud of our efforts in making it, but in the end, it just isn’t that satisfying to do all that work just for one person.

What if the meal we cooked was for close family and friends? Or for a larger gathering? It’s much more satisfying to share our culinary efforts with those we love; to sit with them, sharing and enjoying the fruits of our labor.

It’s much better than cooking a meal from scratch just for ourselves.

But what if we made this meal for a dinner gathering and nobody came? Worse yet, what if they did come, but didn’t eat because they had been snacking all day long?

How would we feel then, as the person who made something to share with everyone, but nobody wanted it?

This is what life can be like for creatives.  We can be like the cook who worked up their best entree, only to have it spoil and go rotten because nobody ate.

Have you ever written a blog that nobody read? Have you ever released music that nobody took time to listen to? Have you ever painted a piece of art or made a craft that nobody bothered to notice?

When I do something creative, I always hope it will be enjoyed, valued or appreciated by others. That’s part of the reason I make the work in the first place. Sure, it’s important to satisfy one’s own creative urges, express the self, etc., but just like our chef and his meal for one, it’s just not a very satisfying experience. Art is meant to be seen, paintings viewed, novels read, music heard, clothing worn, food eaten. And those who make those things often want their work to somehow help those that engage with it; to help them deal with life, or to momentarily distract them from it. In a way, creatives want their work to nourish like a shared meal would.

However, that doesn’t mean that we should expect that appreciation to happen. It often doesn’t. 

The tough thing is that no matter how many times we remind ourselves that this appreciation may not come, it still hurts a lot when our project yields little/no response from our closest friends and family. What did they think of the meal we made? Did they even taste it?

Making these situations worse is the creative’s almost constant need to promote. Our jobs aren’t like regular jobs. In many cases we don’t just “do the thing” and then get paid for it. We have to do the thing, then promote it, and then maybe get paid for it. Friends of creators have an extra role to play in the creative’s life because the creative needs a little help to get that ball rolling, to grease the wheels of publicity and promotion to help them advance their project.

Is it the friend’s responsibility to involve themselves in the creative’s career like this? You could easily argue that the answer is no.

But here’s an argument for why the answer might be yes. People talk about showing up for their friends and being there for them in the big moments; graduations, personal crisis, promotions, etc.. For artists and creatives, those big moments include the release of new work. We might celebrate our business friend’s new job by going out to dinner, but did we spend any time reading our author friend’s new book, or listening to our musician friend’s new album, or going to our painter friend’s exhibition?

As a whole, I don’t think creatives are looking for a giant parade down Main Street.  We just want you take a few bites of the meal we prepared. 

It’s difficult these days to get paid for creative things like recorded music, visual art, blogs, books and so on. The best most of us hope for is that our work will at least be seen, read, or heard. But when those important to us don’t participate, it can make us feel unsupported, devalued and disrespected.  

It’s a difficult situation. Personally, I want both to continue creating things and also to not resent what can feel like a lack of support. All things considered (time, effort, expense, etc.), I’m just not sure that creating for my pleasure only is enough to keep the work flowing.

Many, many thanks to all of those who support their creative friends, engage with their work, and “share the meal”. Your support is invaluable!

Follow Wise & Shine for more stories from our great team of writers. More of Todd’s writing can be found at his Five O’Clock Shadow blog. You can listen to Todd’s new jazz album here, or follow his musical life at toddfulginiti.com.

52 thoughts on “Post Creative Pain

  1. I can relate to the cooking scenario completely. Now I either don’t put too much effort in in or don’t have any expectations. Same with other creative pursuits.

  2. Oh, this is a such a great topic Todd. I’m especially fascinated by the promotion side of creativity, maybe because I’m so horrible at it. I don’t create for the pat on the back, but I love seeing the look on people’s faces when they see something I’ve created for the first time. It’s an amazing feeling. I’ve never lost that high. Now when someone seeks out of my work and I don’t have to beg, borrow, and force them to read it, oh my goodness, those folks are true gems of the world. I don’t think they realize how special they are. Great topic and reminder to support fellow creatives!

    1. Thanks Brian! I’m no promo pro-either, and I hate doing it, but in the case of music stuff, it’s hard to avoid. I agree- those who seek out our work are true gems of the world!

      1. Yes, maybe I don’t understand the music arena well enough … but the promotion on that side of the creative house feels even tougher to me. How do you get yourself heard? How do you get noticed (outside of breaking into a persons home and tying them up and forcing them to listen!!!!) Feels challenging to me.

      2. Lol- that breaking and entering approach just might work!! 😂
        Getting heard by lots of people is difficult and often involves spending more money than you’re likely to recover, so that leaves mailing list members, social media contacts, audiences at live gigs, family and friends.

      3. Maybe get teenagers to play your music … they play it loud … the whole neighbourhood will hear it 😆

  3. Well said. Sticking with the cooking scene, it used to bother me greatly when none of my family would confirm their schedules to let me know which nights I should cook a complete meal and which nights I could skimp on dinner. Seems like I would always end up putting in the big effort only to have no one actually come home for dinner that night. Used to annoy me greatly. Then, I came to realize that the leftovers were being used up. People were taking them for lunch, or having a meal at an unorthodox time because they had a break between activities. So, my efforts in the kitchen were actually being appreciated, it wasn’t a waste of time. Just didn’t meet my expectations of a family meal where everyone ooh-d and ahh-d as I laid the food on the table. Same with expectations for all creative pursuits. The audience might be on a different time table than what we expect.

  4. It really is difficult to maintain any enthusiasm for an art form when it seems your friends and family, let alone the world, couldn’t care less about your efforts.
    As an amateur songwriter for the last 40+ years, I’ve rarely received any positive feedback other than from other creatives.
    A couple years ago, some acquaintances and I formed a small collective that would meet every other week to share our work.
    Now I’m convinced that other artists are the only ones worth sharing our work because they’re the only ones who understand what’s involved, and how to offer critiques without destroying your ego in the process – assuming you need or want some objective feedback. Sometimes it’s just nice to hang out with other creatives.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post and where can I listen to your work?

      1. Wonderful. We used it as our “waiting music” for Panda Express last night and on the ride home. Of course, now I can’t get the theme to “I Dream Of Jeanie” out of my head! ; P

  5. First, I enjoyed your analogy of creating art or writing to cooking a meal for oneself or others. I’m reminded of something I read somewhere (wish I could be more specific) to create a board of directors around ourselves. Find a handful of supporters and give them a role to help you. I identified three people to count on to read and help me. I was CEO, but I needed that wheelhouse of a few people behind me. If I remember where I read it, I’ll post it again. I had one friend who encouraged me to start blogging, She read and commented all the time and gave me ideas. I asked her if she’d be on my “board” and she readily agreed. Sometimes you need one, two or three people to encourage you.

  6. I don’t think you sound whiny. And I imagine that most (if not all) creatives share your view of wanting their work to be seen and heard, then ultimately appreciated. Some of my family listens with interest when I talk about my writing. But with other family member and friends, they might say, “Neat,” and move on to another conversation topic.

    Also, promotion feels icky. At least it feels uncomfortable to me. For the past year, I’ve really reduced the amount of time and effort that I’ve put into promotion. I’ve sold fewer books, but I sold a small amount of books to begin with. On many days of creating, I get a lot of joy. For me, that’s enough to keep at it.

    1. Haha yes – I have some of those “neat” people too. Promotion is not something I like either. Thanks for commenting Dave!

  7. This is a powerful post because I feel the truth in it. And I agree. The need for feedback might vary by person, but the act of creating – even though it can be soul-satisfying on its own – takes on a different level of significance when it’s released into the world. One of the things that’s surprised me the most – and I just heard this over lunch with a colleague today – is that support and recognition often come from unexpected places. Not always the cheerleaders you thought would line up. Thanks for sharing, Todd. 😉

  8. Such a great post, Todd! You’ve described all the value/struggle/pain so well. I suspect that for me there’s one other element and it’s like a post-creative hangover. It’s like I’ve done the big push to get something out the door and then I need a boost from outside of me to get me excited again for the next phase.

    It reminds me of coming back from mountain climbing trips. It was always felt especially awful because I’d put so much energy and excitement into planning a climb and then I’d come home and think “now what?” Not sure if that analogy makes sense.

    In any case – congrats on Jazz on King street. It’s really good. And for everything else – yep, I hear you!

    1. Thanks Wynne- great point! I can totally relate to the hangover idea- there is that period of needing to recharge a bit after a bigger effort. Maybe that state of hangover/fatigue is what allows the unhelpful emotions to visit (kind of like how not eating all day leads allows irritability to come in). As far as mountain climbing goes, if it was me, I think I’d be happy just to have survived the climb 😁 Thanks for the great comment!

  9. I paid a visit to a painter friend of mine some time ago and he talked to me about all the projects he has in mind for his future as a painter. Now he is working as a chef, and he is very successful with it. But not as a painter. He knows that he would need to do more networking to boost his artworks, but he doesn’t, he has no time for that. So, I see this as a big challenge for all the artists. About the recognition from the closed ones, I always try to support my friends. But I would like to have the right to express my feelings about what I am seeing, listening, reading or whatever sense is involved. Now in Europe it’s kind of “not acceptable “ because it would mean that you didn’t understand the work that’s behind. Therefore I discuss about it with my husband, or among friends. I think that if I don’t like some artworks, music or even food, I should have the right to tell it, without offending anyone and without the other person (artist in this case) taking it personally. Interesting insight Todd!

    1. Interesting point Cristiana. You should be able to be honest with your friends. And isn’t there also an argument that we each will have our own interpretation of art/creative works based on our own experience. Perhaps I’m being naive, but isn’t it presumptuous to tell others what they’re supposed to think?!
      I also wonder if we’re doing a disservice to our creative friends by not being honest 😁. It might hurt to get less than enthusiastic feedback, but we need to hear the good and bad to improve and develop – or even understand what’s going on in other people’s lives

      1. I 100% agree Brenda! I know some of my friends and family would give me honest feedback and others would just say something nice. The biggest problem I’m having now is just getting anybody to listen. Negative feedback would actually be an improvement 😁

      2. I guess we can’t force people to engage with our work. I’m not sure what the answer is and I’m not sure I’m at that stage yet Todd – unless trying to persuade students to read my work (or any work) counts. Its more of a novelty when they do

      3. I hear you about the students 😁. I think I was probably the same way when I was a student. 🙃

    2. You raise a great point about feedback, and discussing the art. I totally agree with you – if a person is going to put something out there, they have to expect that not everybody is going to like it. Comedians are lucky in this way because their audience either laughs, doesn’t laugh, or may even boo. The comedian knows right then and there how the audience felt about his joke; and as a comedian, he has to be willing to accept that.

      And I do think you’re right when you suspect that many artists would be offended to hear criticism about their work. But that’s part of the deal of being an artist-or at least it should be. Of course I would love for everybody to love my writing/music, but as I’ve said to my wife many times lately- I would much rather have everybody tell me my stuff sucks, than for them not to even read/listen to it at all. It’s nice that we have these statistical tracking tools where we can tell how many people are reading/listening/etc.

      Thanks for such excellent and thought-provoking comments Cristiana!

  10. It is so interesting, that all of you great writers of the Wise and Shine blogger community are for the moment touching subjects that I have been pondering or I can relate to somehow.
    I have lately been reflecting on why I blog who does read the posts I write, and should I continue. Who am I doing it for and so on. I have the statistics and I know there are people all over the world visiting my site, but still, this question has been occupying my mind.
    I guess it is always good to ask this kind of questions. It kind of adjusts the course or the path of one’s creative being or just being.

    And when it comes to your creation through words, I personally enjoy your posts a lot. Thank you, Todd!

    1. Thanks Parisa- I really appreciate your support! 🙂 It’s funny how often blogging topics come up at just the right time! 🤯😎

  11. It is difficult to stay motivated when you think you’re screaming into the void. We all need that positive reinforcement that what we do matters. While I might enjoy the meal I cooked for myself, it’s so much more satisfying when shared with others. Thanks for this insightful post, Todd!

  12. I resonate with the artist and the writer parts of me. Art was my number one way of expressing myself for years, but as talented as people would say I was, I still couldn’t sell my artwork, so I channeled my creative energy more into writing. I feel very satisfied when people tell me how much my writing helps them in their lives.

    In the past year I have participated in 3 art sales to raise money for Ukraine where I brought my work to sell, and have been delighted by selling a number of pieces. I cannot sell for my own profit, but in fundraising I can sell which means a lot to me knowing I helped in the purchase of drones.

    Sometimes the satisfaction we receive from our creative work comes in different forms than we originally anticipated.

    1. Thanks Tamara- good point. I love hearing about the art sales for Ukraine- that must be very satisfying! 😎

  13. Just by creating I feel we truly feed a very important part of our own soul that must be nurtured. I do understand where you’re coming from. Keep creating.☮️

  14. I know what you mean. I’m starting an interior design business and dear, that’s work, work and work. I guess the secret is to have realistic goals and have patience. When we live something, it’s kind of hard to give up.

  15. The only thing we as individuals can control is what we do or don’t do. To expect others – even immediate daily – to do even a tiny bit is a sureshot way of inviting disappointment and despair. Do what you can. Appeal to your friends. And be happy with what they do do. Motto: Do not expect. And be grateful for every bit they do.

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